Monday, January 24, 2011

The Tiger Mom Syndrome

Everyone around me seems to be talking about the Tiger Mom. My colleague Larry Wills forwarded to me an email from his daugher about the essay "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" from The Wall Street Journal. His daugher has classmates from Hong Kong and Singapore when she was in college.

In fact, I had already read the essay before Larry sent to me.

Then Patrick S. Cheng sent me a link from the Angry Asian Man blog about the book. And Gale A. Yee complained that she grew up in a working class family, and unlike the Tiger Mom, her parents did not have money to send her to learn piano or violin.

Who is this Tiger Mom? Why everywhere people are obsessed about her? Imagine David Brooks writing about your book on The New York Times, Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington criticized your parenting on Morning Joe, and the Time magazine has a cover story about it! Not to mention all those Chinese- and Asian-American commentators on Slate and the blogsphere.

The largest Chinese newsaper in the U.S., The World Journal, ran a full-page story on the Tiger Mom on two consecutive days. Such attention will be a dream for all authors. The PR agent, if there is one, deserves an award.

I first came to know Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, through her first book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Before she is known as Tiger Mom, Chua, a Yale Law professor, was known for her work in ethnicity and development of Third World countries.

Because of the buzz, I decided to buy and read the book. And boy, I found it witty and very interesing. Like Amy Chua, I have a daughter who plays the piano, and learned it for 11 years.

Chua compares the lax Western parenting with the demanding and strict Chinese parenting. Many Western moms would think that she is unloving and hurts her daughters' self-esteem. But for Chua, these Western parents do not have high expectations for their kids, and give up easily.

As I read the book, I wonder how Chua finds so much time to coach her daughters to play the piano and violin, shuttling them to lessons from New Haven to New York, and taking careful notes to teach them at home. Secretly deep down, a lot of moms must have lamented that they do not do enough for their kids. Does Chua have 50 hours a day? When does she find the time to write 3 books, many articles in Law Review journals, and teach at Yale?

It is not just about the Tiger Mom, it is also about the Super Mom. And the perennial debate of a working mom.

Are all Chinese moms like Amy Chua? I guess not. But imagine a country with 1.3 billion people. If you want your children to succeed, you better make sure that they can compete. Lang Lang, China's piano protege, thanks his parents for their sacrifice.

I asked my daughter if she has heard about the Tiger Mom. She said she has heard it from a friend. I guess if you happen to be Chinese, people will ask for your opinion.

"Is your mom a Tiger Mom?" I jokingly asked.

"No, just the opposite. I told my friend." She said.

I am more "Western" in my parenting, if we want to use the stereotypes. As a feminist, I believe that I should raise my daughter to respect herself and have her own opinion. But on hindsight, I wish I have accompanied her more when she practiced her piano. Her piano teacher, a Jewish mom, said she had a lot of potential.

I seldom buy a popular book that I would only read once. But I decided to buy this one, because I wanted to pass onto my daughter to see what she has to say about it. So stay tuned.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Pui Lan! It's somewhere in-between it seems to me at least. While you may not have accompanied your daughter along her piano lessons, you most likely discussed things that many mom's don't with their daughers, like feminism! When I joked with my 17 yr. old son and asked him about me being a Tiger Mom, he said, "sometimes you try. Most of the time you're unlike many Asian parents I know!" The important thing is that we spend time getting to know them as they come to know about us as well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for a very thoughtful blog post. The thing that has struck me in all the furor is how obsessed we all seem to be about the "right" way to be a parent. Working vs. stay-at-home, demanding vs. relaxed, strict vs. not... inherent in all these arguments is the assumption that one way is right and the other is wrong. But I don't think it's that simple. I couldn't possibly be a Tiger Mom -- I just don't have the right personality for it. I'm not that focused or detail-oriented, and I just don't tend towards the authoritarian. Now, I know people who are those things, and they're great people to have on a project, but I'm not one of them. No matter how hard I tried, I would simply be a bad Tiger Mom.
    But I think I'm a pretty good mom-who-plays-D&D-and-talks-about-almost-anything-you're-interested-in. My best parenting traits are curiosity, willingness to engage in discussions about almost anything, and eagerness to learn new stuff. I may not be a mom who produces Olympic athletes or concert pianists, but I am the mom my son's friends hang around the kitchen with because they know they'll be taken seriously. I have to think there is some value in that.
    In other words, maybe instead of the "right" way to parent, what we need to know is who *we* are as parents. Maybe there is no "right" way to parent anymore than there is a "right" way to pray.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Can you believe this is the most read blog so far, with more than 140 pageviews already? Thanks for the comments.

    ReplyDelete